Chapter One

Clicking Your Heels You Don’t Get Too Far

I FOLLOWED the line of people to the baggage claim in Long Island’s small, but convenient, MacArthur Airport and turned my cell phone on. As it tried to grab some sort of signal, the voice mail alert chimed three times, indicating I had that same number of messages.

All of them from my mother, naturally.

The first was a hang-up.

The second was sort of a message. “Hello? Robert? You there? Did the plane land yet? Hello?” and then it cut off.

The last was her simply saying, “I’m out front,” but was almost a minute long because she didn’t hit the End button correctly. I had to listen to her rendition of “Poker Face” for fifty-eight seconds.

I think I’ll save that message for special occasions.

My mother still has no idea how to use the iPhone I bought her last Christmas. Just in case you were wondering.

My three pieces of luggage came around the winding treadmill thing, and I plucked them off quickly before they got too far. I made my way to the automatic door, and there was my mother sitting in her silver Mercedes, playing what I could only assume was Angry Birds on her phone, because it was the only thing she knew how to do with her phone.

I rolled my suitcases over to the car and tapped on the passenger window. She jumped in her seat and gaped at me with a face of terror. When she realized it was me and not some carjacker, she smiled brightly. She flung open the door and didn’t bother to shut it before rushing over to me with her arms wide open.

“My baby boy has come home!” she squealed as she cut off the flow of oxygen into my lungs by bear-hugging me. “I’ve missed you so much!” She kissed each of my cheeks roughly seventy-two times.

“Ma,” I choked in between the assaults, “I just saw you at Christmas, and we Skyped every week.”

“Yes,” she said and finally released me. “But this time you’re home for good.” She gave me another hug, this time not as violent.

I was about to respond with “Temporarily” when the car behind my mother’s honked at us.

If you had told me I was going back to living with my mother years after I turned thirty, I would have laughed at you while jumping up and down on your chest for even suggesting such a thing. Lo and behold, there I was in her car, returning to the place I’d wanted to leave so desperately almost ten years ago.

It wasn’t that I hated living with my family. Far from it, in fact. They were the only ones who kept me sane all those times I thought about hitchhiking to Canada and never looking back. Going from a comfortable two-bedroom house back to a twelve-by-twelve bedroom where I’d had wet dreams about Patrick Swayze wasn’t exactly on my list of life goals.

“Hey, asshole!” my mother screamed. “You can’t wait one more goddamn minute for me to welcome my son back home?” And she flipped the driver off.

You’ve got to love my warm yet crazy, loud, Sicilian through and through mother. You may risk taking the girl out of Brooklyn, but try as you might, you’ll never take Brooklyn out of the girl.

She turned back to me, smiled, and gave my right cheek a squeeze. “Face bello!” she said, pronouncing it fah-chay, and hit the button on her car remote to open the trunk. I loaded up my luggage and got into the passenger seat, making sure my seat belt was taut. I love my mother, but she can’t drive for shit.

“Did my car get delivered all right?” I asked as she peeled out of the airport parking lot, making me grab the oh fuck! handle above me. Thank God the house was only two miles away.

“Yes,” she said. “It came early this afternoon. Honey, don’t be upset, but I think they scratched it while it was coming up here from Texas.”

“Christ. Where?” I asked, annoyed already. That car was the only thing that had survived Foster along with me. I know I hadn’t taken perfect care of her, but the thought of something happening to Elphaba—because what else do you name a lime-green Bug?—chilled me to the bone.

“The driver’s side,” she said.

I let out the breath I’d been holding. “Under the mirror?”

“Yes. How did you know that?” she asked.

“Ma,” I said as I face-palmed, “I did that two years ago with a shopping cart. Remember? I told you about that.”

“Oh.” She slumped. “Oh! That’s right! I completely forgot. Well, you got $500 back on your credit card regardless because I ripped that bastard moving company a new one over the phone, so you’re welcome.” She turned and beamed smugly at me.

“Ma! The road!” I yelled as we started to veer off to the left.

“Shit. Sorry,” she said, readjusting her focus.

I looked at her and shook my head, then laughed. My mother is one of those people who still believes we live in an age where the customer is always right, even if they’re 110 percent wrong. For example, she once had a very expensive alarm system put in the house totally free of charge because she thought the salesman was first, checking out her ass, and second, overcharging her. She ended up calling the guy’s manager, and then called that guy’s manager just in case, to let them know she would go to News 12 with the story.

Needless to say, no one knows if the guy checked out my mom’s ass—gross—or if she was overcharged or if the alarm company really thought she had a friend at the local cable station. I personally think they didn’t want to hear her bitch any longer.

Over the past twenty-something years, my mom has become, you might say, hostile toward many things that disrupt her life. If I had a degree in psychology, I would be comfortable saying that the hostility dates to certain events that changed her both emotionally and mentally.

My father died when I was only five and my mother was still pregnant with my sister, Nicole. He was sideswiped by a drunk driver late one night while he was coming home from work. The guy hit my father’s car hard enough to make it flip over on the Southern State Parkway. My father died instantly. The drunk was also killed because he hit a tree and wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

My father’s life insurance took care of most of the bills for a while. Unfortunately it wasn’t long until my mother had to go back to work at the local bank, where she ended up meeting her second husband.

He was a well-off bank manager whose wife had passed not too long before my father. After almost eight years of his pursuit of my mother, they started dating and eventually got married. She quit her job at the bank because she didn’t feel right working for her husband and it wasn’t financially necessary for her to work. He was nice enough to me and my sister the short time they were married, but even at my young age, there was something I didn’t trust about him. When I was in my junior year of high school, my mother started to have suspicions and not trust him either. She found out, through various sources, that he had been sleeping with his young assistant since about three months into his marriage with my mother.

It’s a story my mother loves to hate to tell.

You would think my mother would have gone all Angela Bassett in Waiting to Exhale on him, but instead she calmly went to another branch of the bank in the next town over and completely drained their joint accounts dry. She explained what her husband had done, and the tellers were happy to oblige. Some even said that they knew he was hooking up with the girl but were afraid to lose their jobs if they told. My mother thanked them, deposited the money in a different bank, and went back to the house to wait until he got home that night.

When he arrived he screamed at my mother about the money while she just sat at the table drinking her afternoon tea. Before he had a heart attack from all the stress, he stopped screaming and she finally spoke.

“I know about her” was all she said.

The color drained from his face, but he tried to deny it. When my mother said she had witnesses, he looked like he was about to drop dead right then and there.

He moved out that night to who knows where, and from what my mother told me, she never saw him again. Not even in the divorce hearings where she got everything she wanted and more.

Cut to my mother having the house completely redone, a new car, a built-in pool with its very own fully functional pool house, and Nicole and I having our tuition paid in full.

“My first husband and soul mate was killed,” she would say, “and my second husband was a cheating son of a bitch. If I didn’t gag at the thought of having sex with a woman, I would’ve become a lesbian years ago.” She hadn’t remarried or even dated anyone since.

We pulled into the driveway, and I saw my car sitting there, shining like it was new.

“I cleaned it up and tried to get as much of Texas out of it as I could,” my mother said as she turned off her car.

“Thanks, Ma. You didn’t have to do that,” I said to her.

“I know I didn’t, but I’m your mother, so shut up.” And she winked at me.

We got out of the car and took out my luggage. She grabbed the smaller suitcase while I tried to roll the other two over the stone driveway.

“All your boxes came earlier this week,” she told me as she unlocked the front door. “I had the movers put them back in the pool house for you to go through. I would’ve done some laundry, but I couldn’t figure out what box was what.”

“It’s all right,” I said. “I’ll get to it eventually.”

“Why don’t you go back there and organize some of that crap while I start dinner?” she said with a weird tone.

“Ma, I just want to go upstairs and relax right now,” I whined. “I’m exhausted.”

She gave me a look. It was the same look she’d had when she knew I got into her makeup when I was eight. “Robert Joseph DeCaro, I said go back there and start unpacking,” she snarled through her clenched teeth, which only a mother can do, and tossed me the keys to unlock the pool house door.

“Yes, Mommie Dearest,” I responded and scurried straight out the back door before she had a chance to throw her shoe at me. I walked around the pool to the minihouse in back.

Bracing myself for the smell of chlorine-drenched inflatable toys and recently cleaned beach towels, I unlocked the door. Instead there was a pleasant fragrance of vanilla. It was dark inside, so I felt the wall for the light switch and flipped it on.

My jaw went slack at what I saw in front of me.

If I said she went all out, that would be an understatement. My mother had converted the once underused pool house into a real home. It looked like a one-bedroom apartment on steroids. The walls were painted in earth tones and covered in various Broadway show posters I thought my mother had thrown out years ago. She must have reframed them all because they looked brand new, not covered in cobwebs like the last time I saw them. There was a small kitchen complete with mini-appliances that led to a full-size bathroom with a shower and tub.

The living/dining area had a brand-new couch, love seat, and table. My big-screen television fit in the corner as well as the rack for my 500 DVDs. I had sold most of my furniture before I left, so it was nice to have new things. I walked over to a door to my left and opened it. It was my new bedroom. Two new dressers, a walk-in closet, and a queen-size four-poster bed complete with nightstands filled the space perfectly.

A weak smile appeared on my face and tears filled my eyes as I looked at the bed. The mattress and bed set I had in Foster were the last things I threw out before I left. The bed was the first thing Riley and I had bought together when we moved into the house. No one had and no one would ever sleep in that bed except us.

The bed in front of me would be only mine.

I looked over to the nightstand to the right and focused on the picture frame that stood on it.

If my eyes were misty before, they were a tidal wave now.

The picture was a five-by-seven photo of Riley and me with our arms around each other in front of the packed taxi that was taking us to the airport. My mom had taken the picture just as we were about to leave for our new life in Texas. It had taken her ten shots to get a halfway decent one because she was crying and shaking the whole time.

She’d loved Riley like he was one of her own. Nicole had loved him like a second brother, and I had often wondered if they liked him better than they liked me. I picked up the frame and touched the glass.

“So,” my mother’s voice came from behind me, “what do you think?”

I put the frame back on the small table and turned around just in time to see her face darken for a split second when she looked at the picture. She quickly smiled before making eye contact with me.

I walked over to her and pulled her into a hug. “It’s perfect, Ma. Thank you.”

She squeezed back. “Anything for you, my little bubbie.” She pulled away from me. “You sure everything is good?”

“Yes, Ma. I love it all,” I said with a smile. I squinted my eyes and continued speculatively. “Something tells me you had some help with all this, though.” I did my best Vanna White impression, including the entire apartment in one sweep of my hand.

“Uh… well?” she stammered. “I did have some help.”

I love my mother, but her interior design skills are a bit on the scary side. She goes through phases. When we were younger, every room except for the bedrooms had something to do with dogs. Don’t even ask about the schnauzer toilet seat cover.

When Riley and I first started dating, she had the idea of theming everything in Western motif. Cowboy hats and horses galore! I tried to explain that even real Texans don’t have that shit on every surface they own.

“Let me guess,” I said, knowing exactly who had amazing decorating skills. “Uncle James?”

“Good guess,” she answered, smiling at her only brother’s name.

“How is the old queen these days?” I asked.

Uncle James and my mother were as tight as Nicole and I were. They were there for each other through the best parts of their lives and the darkest. They would laugh and argue but never stayed mad with one another for more than a day. James constantly took my mom to the city to see one Broadway show after another and then have a night on the town. When Nicole and I were old enough, he piled us onto the Long Island Railroad and made sure we had the best seats in the house for the latest Broadway show he was obsessed with at least four times a year.

He was the first person I came out to because I didn’t know how my mother would react. Having your brother be gay is one thing, but your son is something quite different. Uncle James told me to be honest with her and let her know how much she meant to me.

I did exactly that. When I told her, she was upset. But not for the reason I thought. She was pissed that I’d come out to him before her. Not because she thought I was too scared to tell her, but because they had a bet on who I was going to show my rainbow flag to first.

“Mothers always know” is the expression, isn’t it?

As you can tell by now, my mother couldn’t care less who I slept with as long as they treated me with love and respect.

My mother’s face lost a little light when I asked about my uncle. “He’s… coping,” she said quietly. “I think maybe you should go visit him when you get the chance.”

“I should’ve been here for him” was all I could say.

“Robert,” she said sternly. “You had plenty of things to deal with down there. James knows how much you care for him, and he understands that you couldn’t get away from that godforsaken town without hitching up a horse and buggy to drive to the nearest airport.” She paused. “You’re home now, and that’s all that matters.”

“I’ll stop by there tomorrow,” I said.

“Good,” she said. “Now get yourself ready for dinner. It’s almost done.” She stood on her toes, kissed my cheek, and then lightly smacked it. “And pick up all this shit.” She motioned to my bags and walked out the door.

And just like that, I was home.

When I was younger, I didn’t have many friends. Our neighbors were mostly older with kids who were already in college by the time I started first grade. In school I was quiet and stuck to myself. No one bothered me and I never bothered them. That lasted all the way through high school, where there were so many kids that, unless you drove up in a new Mercedes, no one noticed you. With the money my mother received from my dad’s life insurance and her eventual divorce settlement, she was able to send my sister and me to a “decent” school as opposed to the public school we lived near.

It was a Catholic school. Everybody wore the same uniform, and I was able to camouflage myself with the rest of the crowd. I remember at graduation, when they called my name to receive my diploma, I only heard the sound of cheers coming from my mother, sister, my uncles James and Andy—yeah, they’re a couple; I’ll get to that part in a bit—and the quiet clapping of the strange girl I had a semifriendship with in art club. Maybe the applause would’ve been louder if the club had more than two members.

Let me just say here that I wasn’t a depressed, lonely child who was scared of losing someone like I had when my father died.

That came later in life.

When the accident happened, my mother explained that my father had gone to live with the angels but would always be with us. I, like most five-year-olds who had just lost a parent, looked at her and said, “Okay,” gave her a hug, and went back to watching Sesame Street. I didn’t understand death back then; looking back I realize it was because I hadn’t really met her yet.

The whole time Nic and I were growing up, my uncle, who essentially became our own fairy godfather, would take my sister and me to the movies to see the latest Disney features. Sometimes we went to the ancient theater in town where they would show classic films, animated and live action, on the big screen for a dollar. I would watch in amazement at the beauty of animation and music coming together on-screen. Being the curious kid I was, I noticed that most of the time, I was drawn to the main character having only one living parent. Somehow it made me feel better that the pretty heroine was just like me. Whether her father or mother was or wasn’t there, she still ended up doing okay in the end.

Whenever those movies finally came out on VHS, I would beg my mother to bring me to Sam Goody to buy it the day it came out. I’d even write the release date on the calendar in bright red ink. I would rip open the cellophane as soon as I got home and proceed to watch the movie on heavy rotation for the next week, singing and dancing along with my new friend on the television.

If you don’t think people are born gay, I have news for you: we most certainly are. I would dream that my house was covered in thorns and my family and I were eagerly waiting for the handsome prince to come save us.

TRANSFIXED BY the visions in front of me, my brain melted the basic plot of those movies together. The main protagonist was some peculiar young girl who wanted to escape her mundane life of brushing her long hair with a kitchen utensil and cleaning up after her vile stepfamily. She dreamed of the day a prince in disguise or a bizarro weather phenomenon would literally sweep her off of her feet, taking her from the world of sepia tones to a far-off land above the ocean surface full of magical creatures basking in the warm light of Technicolor rainbows she used to read about in her favorite book.

Our heroine would then proceed to calm the beast, kill the witch, marry the wealthy prince, and dance on her own two feet with a brand-new hairstyle to boot.

And best of all, she got that coveted prize.

The happily ever after.

IT WAS something that, as I started college, I continued to daydream about, though I’d stopped binge-watching those movies years earlier. Later I realized, the hard way, that real life wasn’t all castles and singing flatware.

My life ended up becoming one big fractured fairy tale. I’d just recently picked up the last piece in order to start Krazy Gluing it all back together.

Disney never makes movies about those kinds of stories.